J.P. Howell: Four Pitch Puppet Master


In 2009, there were 1023 different pitches thrown a minimum of 200 times by individual pitchers. J.P. Howell managed to produce 4in the top 169 in terms of Non-Contact Strike% (NCS), which includes both whiffs and called strikes. In all of Major League Baseball there were just two other pitchers with three pitches in the top 200, a couple no-names in Tim Lincecum and Jorge De La Rosa (none in the top 15, J.P. has 2). There were an additional 25 pitchers with 2 pitches on the list. Our little lefty soft-tosser managed to stand alone with 4 offerings making the cut. Here is a look at Howell's pitch usage, whiff rates, called strike rates, NCS rates, and the rank among all 1023 pitches for each:

 

Type

Use%

Whiff

Rank

CallStk%

Rank

NCS

Rank

CH

20.4%

20.5%

44

19.0%

372

39.5%

14

CU

35.2%

19.6%

52

13.3%

834

32.9%

112

FA

23.1%

2.6%

995

37.5%

1

40.1%

9

FF

21.3%

1.9%

1015

29.4%

9

31.3%

163

 

It's safe to say J.P. Howell knows how to mix up his pitches to keep hitters guessing and off balance.  His changeup and curveball are in the top 52 in terms of whiff %. That's not all that surprising. What is surprising is the way is two and four-seam fastballs freeze hitters. Both are in the bottom 28 in terms of whiff rate, but are in the top 10 in terms of called strikes. That oh-so-pedestrian 86mph fastball has hitters consistently watching it cross the plate, unable to get the bat off their shoulders. What a phenomenal assortment of complementary pitches, and great game calling, to keep hitters so off balance. Howell's two-seamer is taken 78.5% of the time, a full 5% more often than the next most taken pitch in major league baseball; Joe Saunder's curveball. When you compare the Called Strike % between the pitches, Howell wins by an astounding margin of  37.5% to 25.8%. In fact, there are only 5 pitches in Major League Baseball with pitches north of 30% in called strikes.

Remember, these %'s are based on overall pitches. What if we isolate the NCS as a % of Swings or Takes? We'll look at swinging strikes as a % of overall swings (In Play+Foul+SwStrike), and called strikes as a % of pitches taken (Balls+Called Strikes):

 

Type

Whiffs/Swings

W/S Rank

Strikes/Take

S/T Rank

CH

40.4%

45

38.6%

153

CU

38.8%

63

26.9%

791

FA

12.3%

745

47.8%

12

FF

5.6%

1001

44.4%

33

 

It is beyond stunning that Howell's 86ish MPH fastballs, which generate only 12.2% and 5.64% whiffs on swings, are able to sneak across the plate for strikes so frequently  while hitters continue to whiff on the off speed stuff at fantastic rates.  Choose any superlative you like really to describe Howell's pitch selection and it probably fits. He always manages to stay one step ahead of the hitter (unless his name is Rod Barajas).

 H/T: RJ, vivaelpujols, therayspartyleader for their work in breaking down pitch type results.

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